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PRINCESS SAMARA AND THE SCARY SPELLS
(The king and queen have been imprisoned. Their daughter journeys to find friends who will help her to rescue them. Opening chapters are separately uploaded)
12. JOURNEY TO THE HOTLANDS
Raja climbed on top of Barado in front of Samara because he was both younger and shorter than she was, and his view would have been blocked if she had sat in front of him. Then the horse galloped off.
They passed the same rocky mountains that Samara had seen on the way to Wetlands, but then Barado took a turn southward and they reached the plains where the vegetation grew thick and green. They would have stopped to enjoy the view and walk about, but Barado insisted that they were still a long way off and that they needed to move on, as they had to reach their destination before darkness fell.
The sun grew hotter and they sped past deserts. Sometimes Barado would stop to let a herd of camels pass.
‘Look at their long, curvy necks,’ said Samara to Barado. ‘So funny! And they actually have toes!’
It was evening by the time they reached the Hotlands. Samara had heard about the terrible heat they would encounter, and was therefore most surprised to find that in fact the weather was rather like late winter or early spring in Amhara. There was in fact a slight nip in the air.
‘How everyone exaggerates!’ Samara exclaimed. ‘I learnt that the Hotlands would be as hot as a furnace, but on the contrary it was hotter on the way and here I find the temperature very pleasant.’
‘I suppose you could say that,’ said Barado. For him temperatures didn’t really matter as he was a special horse whose body adapted very quickly to whatever climate he was in.
‘In fact, I’ll put something on,’ said Samara. ‘Perhaps a light jumper. Raja, would you like something?’
‘No, I’m not cold,’ said Raja, who had a lot of bravado about him.
But where were they going to find Hoven, the capital of the Hotlands? There were no milestones in the desert, no signposts and nothing to indicate the direction they needed to travel in. Neither were there any human dwellings that they could have approached and asked for directions. Barado was also at a loss. He had only once been in Hotlands and that was a long time ago.
Samara and Raja got off the horse and sat down on the cool sands of the desert. The three of them racked their brains for a way to reach Hoven.
‘I don’t think there is any point in going any further, unless we are very sure that we are heading in the right direction,’ said Samara.
‘That’s true,’ agreed Raja, ‘but where are we going to find someone who can guide us in this lonely and silent desert?’
They thought about this for a long time.
‘Isn’t there something moving over there?’ cried Barado suddenly.
Indeed, when the three of them stared hard, they could just make out a small, moving speck on the horizon. As they continued to stare at the speck, trying to determine whether it was a man or a beast, it suddenly disappeared out of sight.
‘Quick!’ cried Samara. ‘Let’s follow it!’
‘But I can’t see it any more,’ complained Raja.
‘Neither can I,’ said Samara, impatiently, ‘but we knew where it was a moment ago, didn’t we?’
Raja and Samara once again climbed on top of Barado and he galloped off in the general direction where they had seen the speck. Very soon afterwards they saw what it was: a small boy on top of a camel. From his appearance he seemed to be just a bit older than Raja, with a lighter complexion than the other two children for Raja was fairly dark, though not as dark as Samara.
When they reached the boy, Raja greeted him with the words, ‘Good evening, Elder Brother, please could you tell us the way to Hoven?’
‘All in good time,’ said the boy on the camel. ‘In the desert when we first meet, we must always at least be briefly acquainted with our fellow travellers. So let us be introduced. Who might you be?’
Samara hesitated, because she now knew that the evil wizard had many powerful friends, even though when she looked at the boy she could see there was something very friendly and warm about him and she felt he could be trusted. Perhaps she could tell him just a little about themselves. She stepped forward.
‘This is Raja, I am Samara, and this is our horse and good friend, Barado. We are on our way to Hoven to buy some Osfofo herbal concoction for Raja’s grandmother.’
‘I am pleased to meet all of you,’ said the boy. ‘My name is Abdul. You have a beautiful horse. Would you like to sell it?’ He then saw that the princess looked angry. ‘Don’t be angry. I will give you a good price. I can offer you six Arabian horses for your one white horse.’
‘Barado is not for sale,’ said Samara crossly. ‘Besides, what do you need horses for? You only have camels in the Hotlands, don’t you?’
‘What you say is true of most of the Hotlands,’ said Abdul, ‘but not about where I come from.’
‘I see,’ said the princess, ‘but in any case, as I’ve just told you, our horse is not for sale. Now, would you be so kind as to tell us the way to Hoven?’
‘Do you know how to read the stars?’ asked Abdul.
‘Not really,’ said the princess.
‘Well, in that case I shall point them out to you,’ said Abdul. ‘Come closer to me so that you can better follow the line of my vision.’
Raja and Samara crowded around him. He pointed to a distant group of stars. ‘Do you see that cluster of stars over there?’ he asked. Raja and Samara strained to make out the cluster he was talking about and tried to follow the line of his vision. The sky was studded with thousands of stars and they wanted to be sure they were looking at the right ones.
‘You mean that one which has a slightly pinkish star in the middle?’ asked Raja.
‘Pinkish star? Yes, that’s clever of you to have spotted that,’ said Abdul. ‘Now, inside that cluster towards the middle, do you see the group of stars that is making an octagon?’ he asked them. ‘You do know what an octagon is, don’t you?’
‘Oh, yes,’ said Samara. ‘An octagon has five sides to it. Let me see what you mean.’ She peered at the group of stars. ‘Yes, I see the octagon. Do you see it Raja?’
It took Raja a few more minutes of searching and then he could see the octagon as well.
‘Now the octagon has five sides. If you extend all the sides, you will see that one particular side connects up with a really bright star. Do you see that star?’
Samara and Raja extended the sides of the octagon in all directions as Abdul had suggested, and very soon became aware of the bright star he had spoken about.
‘Well, now you know the way,’ laughed Abdul. ‘All you have to do is just follow that star and you will reach your destination.’
He shook hands with Samara and then with Raja. He suddenly stopped short.
‘Your hand seems a bit clammy to me, Raja,’ he said. ‘Sometimes this can be a sign of the dreaded bumbolla virus. It’s quite a common infection around these parts.’
Raja looked puzzled. ‘I feel fine,’ he said. ‘I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.’
‘Oh but everybody feels fine at the beginning,’ said Abdul. ‘Tell me, are you carrying some Koko medicine?’
‘I’ve never heard of it,’ said Samara. ‘What’s it supposed to do?’
‘It completely neutralises the bumbolla virus,’ said Abdul. ‘It’s a bit like the medicine you are going to buy for Raja’s grandma. But you don’t get so much time to apply the antidote. You have to administer Koko medicine within four hours of getting the fever, otherwise it’s good bye.’
‘I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about,’ said Samara, ‘but we’ll buy some Koko medicine to take back to Wetlands.’
‘I’m sure I don’t need it,’ said Raja. ‘I’ve never felt better in my life.’
‘Well, your face looks a bit flushed to me,’ said Abdul, ‘but that just might be the colour of your skin. Do you feel an itching in your toes?’
‘No,’ said Raja. ‘Why do you ask?’
‘Usually it’s a symptom of the virus, so it’s good they don’t itch.’
‘I’m sure I’m perfectly fine,’ insisted Raja.
‘Of course, there are many reasons why one’s hands can suddenly turn clammy,’ said Abdul, ‘but do buy the medicine, just in case.’
They thanked Abdul and hoped they would see him again.
‘You’ll possibly see me in Hoven tomorrow. I have a consignment of fruit to deliver in another town and then I’ll make my way to the capital. Do you know where you’ll be staying?’
Samara and Raja shook their head.
‘In that case I suggest you stay at the Sarai,’ said Abdul. ‘It’s the best place to stay in town, and we’ll almost certainly meet each other if you decide to stay there.’
They thanked him once more for his help and advice and continued on their journey across the yellow sands. For a moment it occurred to the princess that Abdul might be the boy they were looking for, but she couldn’t see how he, even with his tremendous navigational skills and knowledge of the stars, could possibly help to rescue her parents.
They made slow progress. Even Barado with all his racing skills was not able to go at a proper gallop as his hooves sank into the yellow sand all around them. The temperature was slowly dropping and soon there was almost a chill in the air. Samara wondered why it was called the Hotlands. She shivered suddenly. There was now rather more than just a sharp nip in the air. She drew a small shawl out of her bag and wrapped it around Raja and herself.
After an hour of trudging across the desert sands, Hoven, the capital of the Hotlands, suddenly came into view. It was a small town with only about ten thousand inhabitants. It was late evening, but they found that there was still a lot of life in the town, and all the streets were full of people going for a walk. The shops, too, were doing brisk business, selling all sorts of wares. Some were gathered around small tables where they were drinking what looked like tea, and near each customer there was a contraption with a pipe that they inhaled and then threw out smoke. The dandika as this contraption was named, may have been an earlier version of a smoking apparatus that you still sometimes find in some countries, known as a hookah.
There were numerous pharmacies, with travellers buying large quantities of medicines to take back to their countries and sell at a premium. They entered a less crowded pharmacy off the main street and bought some Osfofo herbal concoction for Dadima. The chemist was pleased that Raja was purchasing a fairly large quantity. He was buying much more than the dose prescribed for Dadima, just in case there were others in the Wetlands, apart from his grandmother, who also suffered from the dreaded Khang and were in urgent need of the medicine. They asked the chemist if he had any Koko, but he had just run of out stock. ‘Try some other pharmacy,’ he said. ‘It’s widely available.’
Having purchased the medicine for Dadima, they looked around for a place to eat. They entered a restaurant and were disappointed to find so few things listed on the menu. There were none of the exotic delicacies that Samara had sampled in Wetlands, and not even some of the plainer but tasty food sold in restaurants in Amhara. There were, however, quite a few choices for Barado and he selected a couple of suitable items from the camels’ menu, because there were not many horses in Hotlands. After a while Raja and Samara allowed the owner of the restaurant to choose something for them to eat, but when they tried to eat it they found it was like eating cardboard. Privately, both Samara and Raja were thankful that they would not have to stay long in this country. Samara’s main worry was that they would very soon have to find the boy who would help her to rescue her parents, as she’d been told by the fairy.
As they wandered through the market, they came across a strange combination of articles in the clothes’ shops. In most parts of the world clothes’ shops stock clothes either for winter or for summer, depending on the season. Here in the Hotlands, however, they found that clothes’ shops displayed a sizeable quantity of summer clothing, such as T-shirts and shorts, and at the same time winter wear such as sweaters, woollen coats and shawls. What was even more surprising was that people were buying both summer and winter clothes at the same time.
‘You will catch a chill, dear sir,’ cried a shopkeeper pointing at Raja, for he was wearing only his shirt and had refused to cover himself with the shawl that Samara had offered him. He had not brought any warm clothing with him because he hadn’t for one moment thought it would be needed in Hotlands, of all places.
‘Oh, no, I’m fine as I am,’ insisted Raja.
‘For now,’ said the shopkeeper, ‘you are fine, but you will not be fine later in the night unless you are under bedclothes. If you have to come out of a tent, what then?’
Samara insisted they buy something to keep Raja warm. It would also be a memento from their visit to this strange land.
The shopkeeper produced several shawls and showed them to his customers. Raja selected one for himself and one for his grandmother back home who always felt cold, even though in fact it was hardly ever cold in Wetlands.
‘My shop is the best for winter clothing,’ said the shopkeeper proudly. ‘We even supply winter clothing to Snowland.’
Samara was intrigued. She didn’t have sufficient warm clothing for Snowland, and she knew that she would have to go there very soon. She bought a few top-quality extra-warm shawls from the old man, who was overjoyed to have suddenly sold so many items.
Their purchases made, they decided to ask around for the Sarai, the place recommended by Abdul. It was not difficult to find because there was a very large painted signboard just outside the lodging house that could be seen from a distance. The Sarai was a large, fenced-off enclosure with about fifty tents for guests to stay in. There were no concrete buildings in the city and everybody, including important people such as the mayor, lived in tents.
The manager of the Sarai told them that most tents had everything they could wish for. In their tent there were two large single beds for Samara and Raja, a kitchen, a toilet, and even a large space for Barado to rest in. In fact Barado had the biggest bedroom with a very high ceiling, for a camel was meant to live in it, and there was a bushel of hay ready for Barado to eat.
‘We forgot to buy Koko, Raja,’ said Samara. ‘You remember the medicine that Abdul had suggested for you?’
‘We’ll buy it tomorrow,’ said Raja, yawning as he sat down on the bed to untie his shoes. ‘I feel fine.’ He took off his socks and shoes, and began to scratch his toes, again yawning like mad. That day they had had a long journey and Samara decided to go to bed early. She was about to make this suggestion to Raja, but when she turned to talk to him she found he was already fast asleep in his bed. She thought that he did look a bit under the weather, as Abdul had previously suggested, but then decided that she was letting her imagination run away with itself, so she went to the next room to say good night to Barado.
13. A SUDDEN CRISIS
Next day in the morning, loud banging on the door woke them up. It was the manager of the hotel.
‘What’s the hurry?’ asked Raja, who had opened the door and was annoyed to have to get out of bed so early.
‘Don’t you know?’ said the manager. ‘Very soon the dreaded loo will start. Please come outside and have breakfast as soon as you can.’
Samara and Raja were quite mystified, but accepted what the manager had said in good faith.
They went to the breakfast hall that was in a very large tent next to the hotel reception area. Samara found the food bland. But if Samara did not particularly enjoy breakfast, for Raja, who had spent all his life eating the most appetising food in the world, it was a revelation to find that some of the food in the world was not tasty.
In future, when I get back to Wetlands, he thought, I’ll certainly learn to be more appreciative of food cooked by my grandmother at home. He barely touched the main breakfast meal. He did, however, eat three helpings of the fruit pudding, which didn’t taste at all bad. Princess Samara smiled as she saw her friend polish off one helping after another in the space of a few minutes. Raja’s appetite assured her that he was in good health. Surely Abdul’s fear that Raja had caught a virus were groundless? she thought.
The only person who was really satisfied with breakfast was Barado, who ate the staple food made available in Hotlands for the camels that was a mixture of dates, oats and dried fruit. For him this was a new and interesting experience.
After they had finished breakfast, they went to speak to the manager of the Sarai to find out the correct route back to Wetlands. When the manager heard that they were planning to leave at once, he was alarmed.
‘Upon my soul, you cannot do that!’ he cried.
Samara and Raja were very puzzled by what he’d said, and asked him why they couldn’t leave.
‘You will not survive,’ said the manager. ‘You will be roasted alive, and so will that small camel of yours.’
Samara and Raja both realised that the manager was referring to Barado, as he had probably never seen a horse before now.
‘You don’t understand,’ said Samara. ‘We urgently need to get back to Wetlands to give some of the medicine we’ve bought in Hotlands to someone.’
‘You cannot go,’ repeated the manager. ‘You will not survive the heat.’
‘But it’s not so hot here,’ said Raja.
‘Not hot!?’ cried the manager. ‘Of course it’s not hot, now.’ He looked at the clock on the wall. ‘But in another half an hour it won’t be possible for any man, woman, child or animal to journey through the desert, because the dreaded and fearsome loo will start blowing.’
Samara and Raja looked at each other.
‘You don’t know about the loo?’ said the manager, smiling. ‘That’s because you are foreigners who only arrived last night. I understand. Now I understand. Well, my friends, you will both see and hear the loo start in another half an hour.’ He paused. ‘I hope you have eaten your breakfast?’
They both nodded.
‘Just as well, because you will not even be able to step out of your tents once the loo starts blowing.’
By now it was clear to both Raja and Samara that the manager had not taken leave of his senses but was merely being very practical.
‘I think it’s best if we stay indoors till the loo blows over,’ said Raja, whispering in Samara’s ear. ‘Dadima will be fine for another two days at least. We can start our journey in the night.’
‘That’s true,’ said the princess.
‘And if we do, perhaps we shall also meet the boy who is to help us cross the River of Fire,’ said Raja.
‘That’s also true.’
‘If you want to make a journey back to Wetlands, your best bet would be to leave early in the evening because then the loo stops raging,’ said the manager as if he’d overheard their conversation. ‘It becomes quite pleasant then, and it will give you an opportunity to explore our city. A few hours after sunset it becomes quite chilly, so I recommend that you wrap up warm as you begin your journey through the desert. I suggest you then stop somewhere in the morning and then continue the next day,’ He paused as if to think. ‘I estimate you should be in Wetlands in eight days from now.’
Samara and Raja looked at each other and smiled. What the manager could not know, of course, was that Barado could cover the journey from the Hotlands to Wetlands in a single night.
‘It might take you a little longer, perhaps, because your camel is rather short,’ added the manager.
It took all their willpower for Samara and Raja not to burst out laughing. Barado, a short camel? Wasn’t that funny?
‘You’d best be getting back to your tent, now,’ said the manager. ‘Once the loo starts you will not be able to leave till the cool evening comes.’
Samara and Raja thanked the manager and made their way back to their tent. As they made their way past the other tents they felt a sudden heat in the air. A slight warm wind had started blowing.
Inside their tent Samara wondered how they would ever meet the boy who would help them cross the River of Fire if they had to remain indoors all day long. She did not, however, say anything to Raja. They could always return to the Hotlands after the medicine had been given to Raja’s grandmother. Dadima was their first priority.
‘I’m feeling tired,’ said Raja. ‘I’m not sure why, really, because I slept very well last night.’
‘Go and rest,’ said Samara. ‘In any case, there’s nothing much to do.’
Raja lay down on his bed, and Samara saw that her friend’s early morning cheery, fresh countenance had evaporated. His eyes were now reddish and his face seemed to be pale. She touched his arm, and was shocked to feel how warm it was.
‘You have developed a high fever, Raja,’ she said. ‘I hope you are going to be all right.’
Raja’s eyes were closed and he was muttering something to himself. Samara felt his arm again and found it was even warmer.
‘Oh, Raja,’ she said, worried sick. ‘I hope you haven’t caught that dreadful sickness that Abdul mentioned. We really should have bought something for you from the pharmacy yesterday, but you looked so well I thought there was no need. Yesterday evening the thought came to my mind that you weren’t looking very well, but when I saw you take three helpings of fruit pudding for breakfast, I assumed my fears were groundless.’
‘Shall I get him the medicine that Abdul recommended?’ she said, turning to Barado. ‘Koko, I think it was called.’
Barado nodded his head.
‘All right then,’ said Samara. ‘I’ll be back in a trice.’
She peered out of the tent, but could see nothing but a swirl of red dust. She put out her hand to see how hot the wind was, and felt as though she had grabbed a lump of hot coal between her fingers. It was boiling outside and the swirling red dust made it impossible to see anything.
‘What shall we do?’ Samara cried to Barado. ‘Abdul must have been right. Raja has contracted the deadly bumbolla virus, and he has to have the antidote soon or he will die.’
Barado could not go on his own, because how could he explain to the chemist precisely what medicine was needed and how would he pay for it?
‘You could write a note and put it under the saddle,’ suggested Barado. Samara, however, was worried about sending Barado out in the loo, because although she knew the horse adjusted to different climatic conditions, she doubted very much that even he could possibly adjust to the raging furnace outside.
They were wondering what they could do when they heard the sound of a bell being rung. It seemed they had a visitor, but who could possibly have braved the impossible weather to come to their tent?
Samara opened the flap of the tent with great care because she knew that the nasty wind blowing outside would be only too pleased to scald her fingers. Despite the whirling dust, she nevertheless made out that it was Abdul who was standing outside.
‘Do you have some sugar?’ he said, speaking between clenched teeth, as he didn’t want to swallow any of the dust. ‘I’m staying in the tent next door to you, and there doesn’t seem to be any sugar in the kitchen. I’m making some buttermilk and need a few tablespoons of sugar.’
‘We have loads and loads of sugar,’ cried the princess, ‘but we need to talk. We have an emergency, and perhaps you can help us.’ She paused to stare at him. ‘How on earth are you managing to stand outside in this weather? Come in at once. Otherwise you’ll be like a roasted chicken in next to no time.’
‘Oh, it’s nothing,’ said Abdul coming into the tent. ‘There are some of us who have got used to the loo living in the desert. By the way, how is that brother of yours keeping? I was certain from the look of him that he had caught the deadly bumbolla virus, but he insisted that he felt all right.’
‘That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,’ said Samara. ‘It seems that he has contracted something all right. He was perfectly all right until this morning, and ate a large breakfast, but all of a sudden he got a high fever.’
‘There is an incubation period,’ nodded Abdul, ‘and sometimes the virus takes time to attack the body. Usually, however, whoever contracts the disease experiences a strange itching sensation between the toes, so when your friend said yesterday evening that he had no such sensation I thought that I was perhaps mistaken and that his face was flushed only because he wasn’t used to the climate.’
‘You mentioned a medicine last night,’ said the princess. ‘Do you happen to be carrying any samples with you by any chance?’
‘No, I have none with me,’ said Abdul.
‘When does the medicine have to be administered?’
‘As I told you last night, within four hours of the person getting a high fever,’ said Abdul. ‘After four hours the virus becomes too strong to control using medicine. It’s difficult to save anyone then.’
‘What’s the time?’ cried Samara anxiously. Her eye fell on the wall clock. ‘It’s twenty minutes past twelve! And we came back from breakfast at half past eight. Oh, dear God!’
‘Oh, I say, this is very serious!’ said Abdul. ‘We have just ten minutes to administer the medicine to Raja or he will die.’
‘What do we do now?’ cried the princess in despair. ‘How on earth are we going to get the medicine?’
‘That’s not such a big problem,’ said Abdul. ‘I know a chemist that’s close by. He has a shop inside his house and I can get him to open it for me. All the stores would be closed at this time of the day because no one would go out shopping at this time of the day when it’s so hot and windy outside. I can just run across and get some of the stuff.’ He became very serious. ‘There is no time. I must go now if I’m to bring it back in time.’
‘But how?’ cried the princess passionately. ‘It’s so blazing hot outside. The loo will scald your skin and burn you.’
‘Oh there’s no problem about that; the loo doesn’t bother me,’ said Abdul. ‘As I’ve said, I’ll be back with the medicine within ten minutes,’ and without further argument or discussion he dashed out of the tent.
The next ten minutes were the longest in Samara’s life. Raja was moaning in his sleep and making strange sounds. She couldn’t bear to see him as he was now, tossing and turning and almost delirious with the high fever that was a symptom of the virus. Barado sat on his haunches next to the bed staring at Raja and looking very worried.
The seconds ticked away. Samara’s eyes never moved from the clock, apart from taking a few seconds to fill a tumbler full of water that she placed on the mantelpiece next to Raja’s bed, so that if Abdul did indeed return with the medicine Raja could at once swallow it together with the water.
Two minutes, four minutes, six minutes, eight minutes… The second hand had just signalled the end of nine minutes when Abdul dashed into the tent, flushed with the exertion of running to the pharmacy and back. Samara noticed that he had not been burnt or scarred in any way. The loo had not harmed him.
‘Here!’ he said breathlessly, passing a bottle to the princess. ‘That’s the medicine. Give it to Raja at once.’
Raja had his eyes closed, mouth open and was moaning even more than before. There were just fifty seconds to go from the time Samara had the medicine in her hands. It took ten seconds for Samara to make Raja sit upright, another five seconds to place the tablet on his tongue, another ten seconds for her to pour water down his throat. Then she had to make very sure that he had indeed swallowed the medicine and that it was not stuck somewhere in his gullet. Samara made Raja drink some more water and thumped him a few times on his back, just as the second hand drew close to finishing the tenth minute.
‘Now we just have to wait and see,’ said Abdul who had been in similar situations many times before. ‘Usually within fifteen seconds the body temperature starts to fall, but during this time it’s important to keep Raja warm, otherwise he might collapse from too sudden a drop in temperature. Do you have any warm clothes?’
‘No, I don’t have any,’ said Samara, and turned to Barado for confirmation.
If Barado could have patted the sack that lay across his belly he would have done so, but in language that only Samara could understand he said, ‘Of course we have warm clothes. You and Raja bought some only yesterday. Don’t forget that we have to go to Snowland.’
‘Oh yes,’ cried Samara, ‘Of course! How could I forget? We do have warm clothes.’ And together she and Abdul began to dig out the clothes in the sack and spread them on top of Raja.
After half an hour later it was all over. Raja’s temperature had returned to normal and his face was no longer flushed and sweating. He was sitting upright, and it seemed difficult to believe that he had so recently been so close to finishing his journey in the world.
‘What happened?’ said Raja. ‘Was I asleep?’
‘You almost never woke up,’ said Abdul.
Samara told Raja what had happened. He looked shocked.
‘Bumbolla patients often cannot remember their sickness,’ said Abdul. ‘This is because they become delirious as soon as the fever hits them.’
‘I’m feeling hungry,’ announced Raja.
‘That’s a sure sign of full recovery,’ laughed Abdul. ‘Let me get some fruit pudding from the kitchen for all of us.’
‘Are you sure you won’t fall sick, Raja?’ said Samara. ‘You had three helpings for breakfast.’
Raja looked guilty.
‘I’m sure he won’t,’ said Abdul helping him out, ‘and besides I haven’t eaten a proper breakfast as well. I’ll just be back.’ So saying, he rushed out of the tent.
14. ABDUL THE FIRE BOY
Abdul came back with a huge tray on which had been placed a large bowl of fruit pudding. Samara helped to transfer the pudding on to three smaller plates that he had brought along with him.
‘I can’t imagine how you can walk into that blazingly hot loo so coolly,’ remarked the princess, as she spooned some pudding into her mouth.
‘There are some of us in the desert who are born with this ability,’ said Abdul modestly. ‘It’s not a big deal. And we needed a celebration of sorts for Raja’s recovery.’
‘That’s true,’ said Samara. ‘I was so scared. I thought there was no way we were going to get hold of the medicine.’ She turned to Raja who was enjoying the pudding. ‘Had it not been for Abdul’s ability to face terrible, blazing winds…’
‘You can walk through fiery winds?’ said Raja impressed, looking up from his plate. ‘Maybe you can walk through fire. We should call you Fire Boy.’
‘Well, not really,’ said Abdul modestly. ‘But hot winds, certainly, and some people call the wind fiery because it will scald and burn your skin, although there is no fire actually burning.
‘This is the boy we have been looking for, Princess,’ said Raja.
‘Why did he call you a princess?’ Abdul looked at Samara.
‘Because I am a princess,’ said Samara. ‘I’m the Princess of Amhara.’
‘Oh, I say, are you the daughter of King Menelik?’ exclaimed Abdul. ‘Why didn’t you tell me this when we first met? Your father, how is he? It was because of your father that my family were able to escape the clutches of the evil wizard Hoohoo when he declared war on our kingdom eight years ago.’
‘It’s not Hoohoo,’ said Samara. ‘The wizard’s name is Zoozoo.’
‘Are you talking about the wizard who is very tall and has green…’ Abdul began,
‘…glittering eyes?’ finished Raja. ‘Yes, it is the same.’
‘And his name is Zoozoo,’ said Samara.
‘Are you sure?’ said Abdul. ‘Anyway, what brings you here?’
The princess then told Abdul the whole story.
‘You are the boy we were supposed to meet,’ sighed Samara, ‘and yesterday in the desert we didn’t realise this.’
‘What do you mean?’
She explained how, after they’d crossed the Kaala Pani Lake with the Golden Key, the task would be to carry the key through a fiery storm that would scald any ordinary person’s skin.
‘I’m sure it won’t be a problem for me,’ said Abdul. ‘There are no storms fierier than the ones in the Hotlands. Shall I come with you to Wetlands?’ Oh, dear princess, do not hesitate to ask me for anything that I might be able to do for you. I shall always come to anywhere you want and do whatever you ask. As they say in my land, your wish is my command. I am happy to go through any fiery storms.’
‘The first task will be to get hold of the Golden Key from a dog called Jhabru,’ said the Princess.
‘Is that so difficult?’ asked Abdul.
‘It is difficult,’ said Raja, ‘because this dog is no ordinary dog. It’s a huge dog, isn’t it, Princess?’
‘About twenty times the size of a normal big dog,’ answered Samara, who had been told this by Khabar. ‘But we’ll think of a solution for that later. Where do you live, Abdul?’
‘It is not far from here. It’s known as Sutthan, and it’s a place known for its medicinal herbs.’
‘That’s something I can’t understand,’ said the princess. ‘How can you find medicinal herbs in the desert? We went to the Hotlands to buy some medicine, but I’m very surprised to find that you concoct medicines here. Out of what? I don’t see anything growing. There’s only the yellow, sandy desert.’
Abdul laughed. ‘You’re quite right in your observations, Dear Sister. In most parts of the Hotlands, which is the largest desert in the world, plants cannot grow, but there is an oasis where they do grow plentifully. It is there that I live with my kinsmen. We also have fruit trees in abundance. When you met me in the desert yesterday, I was taking a consignment of fruit to a nearby town.’
‘So that’s the reason why you wanted to buy Barado?’ said Raja, who had been very intrigued with Abdul’s offer to exchange six horses for Barado when they had first met him in the desert.
‘Exactly,’ said Abdul. ‘We do have horses in Sutthan, and Barado would have been very useful there.’ His eye fell on a large brown packet of medicine that was on the table. ‘Oh, I say, you’ve bought quite a lot of medicine for your grandmother.’
‘We decided to buy a large quantity, just in case there were other people in the Wetlands who also needed the medicine urgently,’ explained Samara.
‘I wish you’d told me that you were going to buy a large amount,’ said Abdul. ‘I could have got you a discount. You see I happen to know some of the shopkeepers.’
‘It doesn’t really matter,’ said Raja.
‘Of course it matters!’ cried Abdul. ‘We could have given the extra money away to the poor people!’
His last sentence was spoken with such vehemence that both Raja and Samara were a little shocked.
‘Is that what you do with the profit you make from selling fruit?’ asked Raja.
‘I have done so in the past,’ said Abdul. ‘The last time I gave away all the profit I made to the poor my kinsmen were most upset with me. I have agreed never to do so again.’ He paused. ‘My kinsmen have, however, agreed that I can give away a certain percentage of the profits to the poor.’ Then he grew serious. ‘I want to do that. The poor need our help.’
Princess Samara now saw Abdul differently. It had annoyed her when Abdul had talked of wanting to buy Barado, but now she realised that his motives were geared more towards helping people than to making lots of money. He was, after all, someone after her own heart.
‘Please tell us more about yourself,’ she said.
‘I said that my parents escaped the clutches of the wizard eight years ago when he declared war on our kingdom,’ said Abdul sadly. ‘This was through the intervention of Princess Samara’s father, King Menelik.’ His voice grew stern. ‘The wizard had launched a surprise attack on our kingdom. We would have been forced to surrender because we had a very small army had not King Menelik come to our rescue with his armed forces.’
Samara now remembered that she and her mother had gone to Uncha Parbat soon after her father the king had come back from an overseas visit. Now she knew where he had been and what he had been doing.
‘My parents escaped the clutches of the wizard on that occasion, for had the attack been successful they would surely have been killed, or at best imprisoned. They were saved then, but alas they did not live long afterwards.’
‘Why? What happened?’ asked Samara.
Abdul gave a long sigh as though he was very unwilling to recall something.
‘My parents were invited as heads of state to attend a conference two years ago in a country called Wetlands. There they appeared to have died in an accident.’
‘How do you know this for certain?’
‘We received a message from the king of that land that this is what had happened, and everyone in my country seems to believe it.’
‘This is Zoozoo’s work!’ exclaimed Samara. ‘Your parents may well still be alive!’
‘Alas, I wish this was true, but all the ministers and high level officials who accompanied my parents said that the accident had taken place.’
‘And who rules your country now?’ asked Raja.
‘There is a round, fat man, a foreigner whom everybody appears to trust.’
‘And what about you?’
‘Well,’ said Abdul, ‘I am quite young, and surely everything depends upon the wishes of my people. My kinsmen don’t like our ruler, but the rest of the people in the Hotlands seem to have no complaint against him. If they are happy with this round, fat man…’ He shrugged.
‘There is one thing I don’t understand Abdul,’ said the princess. ‘If you and your kinsmen don’t like your ruler, that means you have not been hypnotised.’ She turned to Raja for his opinion. ‘Isn’t that true? We know the reason why you were not hypnotised but why hasn’t Abdul been hypnotised?’